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Electric cars – the way forward?


Published: 02 March 2010

As we become ever more environmentally conscious and fuel becomes more of an issue, the car industry is looking closely at engines which run totally or partly on battery power. Hybrid vehicles have already made some sort of inroads into the market; the Toyota Lexus is definitely a case in point but the trend appears to be moving more towards the all-electric vehicle. Here we take a look at two cars which are ready to take the motor industry by storm in the not too distant future. 

The Mini E – comfort and efficiency all in one strong package
 
The MINI E, the world’s first all-electric car was launched with much hype and huge interest at the Los Angeles Motor Show in January 2009 and since it has made an appearance in every other motor show that followed. It’s packed with firsts amongst them carbon-free driving (zero carbon emissions) powered by a 100 % electric motor, seamless acceleration to 100 km/h (62 mph) in just 8.5 seconds, and a top speed of 152 km/h (95 mph) – that's big news for a small car. The MINI E is the future of mobility - and creative use of space at its best! BMW and Swedish power group Vattenfall have also launched a pilot project to test the feasibility of electric cars in Berlin. BMW provided 50 electric MINI models while Vattenfall Europe established a network of charging points throughout the German capital. "We want to know how typical customers drive an electric vehicle in all day use," BMW chairman Norbert Reithofer said in the statement as the project was presented to the German environment ministry. "We also want to have a realistic view of the technology's potential," he said. The project has already started off in Berlin and has been a considerable success.
 
Rinspeed iChange – a concept car for the future – it also runs on electricity
 
The Swiss auto powerhouse Rinspeed recently presented the ‘iChange,’ the world’s first car whose body adapts to the number of passengers on board. For Rinspeed boss Rinderknecht the vehicle is more than just a clever concept car. “The „iChange“ is a symbol for the fundamental changes the auto industry undergoes worldwide.  And it is clear that only those companies will survive that have innovative answers for the demands of a new automotive era.” The visionary Rinderknecht is convinced that the days of gas-guzzling behemoths are coming to an end: “The „iChange“ is a signal for the coming global changes to individual mobility. We need to be ready to meet these challenges with new ideas”, he says.

The basic idea behind the ‘iChange:’: The energy demand of a vehicle depends mostly on its weight, the type of engine it uses, and its aerodynamic properties. The engineering-services company Esoro that traditionally builds Rinspeed concept cars has built an extremely lightweight car weighing in at only 1’050 kilograms. To power the car, the Swiss specialists chose an electric motor. The idea of the pop-up rear end was conceived to account for the sizeable effect aerodynamics play in fuel consumption.

While other cars always have to ferry around their puffed-up exteriors that can accommodate up to seven passengers even if they’re just transporting a single soul, the „iChange“ features an adaptive body. The sole driver is conveyed in a teardrop-shaped car that offers optimal aerodynamic properties and thus minimized energy consumption. If more than one person need to be transported the expanding rear provides room for two passengers. As a result of the increased weight and no longer optimal aerodynamics the energy consumption increases - but only for the time passengers are actually on board.

The energy for the electric motor comes from lithium-ion batteries that are available in two different stack configurations for short- and long-distance driving. The electric motor of the „iChange“ produces 150kW, capable of propelling the car to a top speed of 220 km/h. The sprint from rest to 100 km/h takes just slightly over four seconds. This impressive performance is made possible with the help of a six-speed pre-selector gearbox from the Subaru WRX car. The central research department of Siemens AG (Corporate Technology, CT) supplied the integration technology for engine/generator, electronics and battery connection interface.  Siemens has long been one of the world leaders for energy systems and eco technology with pioneering concepts for electric drive systems. Its products cover the entire electric value-added chain from generation to distribution to consumption. The gearbox and drivetrain are lubricated with eco-friendly lubricants from Motorex. Custom-made lightweight 17” and 18” forged wheels with aerodynamic shrouds are supplied by light-alloy wheel specialists AEZ. Pirelli P Zero tires in size 215/40-17 in front and size 245/40-18 in back provide optimal grip. The front lights derive from the Opel Insignia, the rear lamps come from the Opel Astra Twin Top.
 
These two cars are just some of the many which will be running on electricity in the years to come but surely they provide an experience which is completely unique in many aspects. What is definite is that the electric vehicle is here to stay and is a tool for the future.
 
This article was brought to you by Wheelspin's Gerald Fenech.
 

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